Diamond Princess passenger Carl Goldman has been blogging about his experience in quarantine with the coronavirus. (KHTS Radio)
When Carl Goldman bought his wife, Jeri, a 16-day cruise to Southeast Asia for Christmas, he never imagined the trip would end with the two in quarantine and him testing positive for a new, potentially deadly virus.
The couple, who own and operate Santa Clarita, Calif., radio station KHTS, left for Japan on January 17. A few days later, they boarded the Diamond Princess cruise liner with a few close friends and around 3,500 other passengers. Carl says the first few weeks of the trip went off without a hitch, but things went sideways on the last day.
“After we’d already packed our suitcases, we learned that a passenger had exited the ship in Hong Kong and four days later came down with the coronavirus, COVID-19," Carl said.
The Diamond Princess docked in Yokohama, Japan, and a 14-day quarantine ensued. Carl and Jeri were instructed to remain in their cabin until further notice.
“My wife and I have been married 29 years," he said. "We realized this was going to be the ultimate test of our relationship.”
Carl, who began blogging about the experience while in quarantine on the Diamond Princess, credits the couple's larger suite and attached balcony with taking the edge off the confinement.
Although the Goldmans felt healthy in their cabin on the ship, they kept hearing reports of passengers falling ill. One of their friends tested positive and was taken to a hospital in Japan, though her worst symptoms subsided after a few days.
More than 700 people from the cruise eventually tested positive for novel coronavirus, and seven passengers have died. Carl and Jeri left the Diamond Princess a few days before the quarantine was lifted. The U.S. State Department flew the couple on a cargo plane with around 150 others to Travis Air Force Base, east of Fairfield in Solano County.
Not So Fast...
But that's not where Carl's experience with coronavirus ended. While on board the flight, he started to feel sick.
“When we got on the plane, I fell asleep next to my wife. Two hours later, [I] woke up with a 103-plus fever,” he said. Air Force medical personnel wearing hazmat suits moved Carl to a quarantined area of the plane with other sick passengers.
By the time they landed in California, Carl says his fever had broken, but his body was worn out, “feeling like it had been punched a few times.”
Instead of remaining at Travis, Carl, his wife and about a dozen others were flow to a biocontainment center in Omaha, Nebraska. Carl learned the facility was created by the CDC during an anthrax scare after Sept. 11. That crisis never arrived, but the facility was used for the 2014 Ebola outbreak and now for the new coronavirus.
That's where Carl found out he tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. He has been in Omaha since Feb. 17, passing the hours in quarantine. His wife, Jeri, never became infected.
Carl describes the biocontainment area like a scene from movies like "Outbreak" or "Contagion." In his room he was hooked up to all sorts of monitors and had video cameras on him at all times. Double-pane glass looked down a hallway and his main communications with medical staff were through a two-way video screen. When doctors and nurses entered his room, they wore protective suits.
Birthday in Biocontainment
While in isolation, Carl celebrated his 67th birthday. The medical staff delivered him birthday cake — the candle remained unlit due to regulations — and sang “Happy Birthday” through the two-way monitors.
“It’s just kind of funny,” Carl said. “Who would’ve thought my 67th birthday would’ve been in the biocontainment center in Omaha?”
Through the ordeal, Carl says he's kept his sense of humor and good spirits. His fever hasn't returned, and he just has a lingering dry cough.
“This is out of my control. I’ve kept a positive attitude about this, making lemonade out of lemons,” he said.
On his 10th day in Omaha, Carl was released from the biocontainment area and brought by ambulance to a dorm-like building, where he'll stay quarantined until he tests negative for the virus for three consecutive days. The test comprises getting swabbed daily in the nose and throat. He's also volunteering to get tested under his eyelids and rectally for a clinical study. “I’m taking one for the team,” he said.
While he waits to be released, Carl fills his hours keeping up with his blog, staying on top of work for the radio station and FaceTiming with his wife, who was eventually released and is now back in California.
After being sick, he's back up to logging 10,000 steps a day. In his current room, he says, it takes 14 steps to walk across to the opposite wall. He paces back and forth "like a lion in a cage."
"But I don't complain because when I was in the biocontainment center, I could do only seven steps before I hit the wall."
Carl, a career broadcaster, has also been listening to music. His coronavirus playlist includes Steely Dan, The Beatles' "White Album," Blood Sweat & Tears, and "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash.
Carl says nearly everyone has been overwhelmingly supportive of his situation. Omaha Steaks even delivered "the most delicious steak" after hearing his story. Still, Carl says he and some of his fellow passengers have received death threats, and after returning to Southern California, his wife was refused entrance to a nail salon.
Carl says he hopes people can stay calm and informed during the crisis.
He's been following the latest news and reports of another cruise ship, the Grand Princess, currently docked at the Port of Oakland with 21 cases of novel coronavirus aboard.
He can relate.
“Those passengers are probably going to have to go through the same routine that we went through,” Carl said.
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